In July, 22-year-old Gabby Petito and her boyfriend set out with a van, a tent and a goal to drive across the United States to visit the nation’s most iconic natural wonders.
Over the next two months, the blue-eyed, blonde adventure-seeker walked barefoot around the chalk pyramids that dot Monument Rocks in Gove County, Kan. She slid down the slopes in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado while balancing on a narrow wooden board. At Zion National Park in Utah, Petito posed with a wide smile in front of the terracotta-colored cliffs and waded along the Virgin River as it snaked through the Narrows.
Petito apparently stayed in Utah for weeks, visiting Mystic Hot Springs and Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Arches national parks. She documented it all on her Instagram and YouTube accounts, until her last photo on Aug. 25, in which Petito appears to be holding a small knit pumpkin in front of a mural of monarch butterflies in Ogden, Utah.
The caption that accompanied those butterfly photos – “Happy Halloween” – and a few text messages in the days following were the last words that Petito’s parents heard from her. No one has reported communication from the 22-year-old since Aug. 30.
Suffolk County Police in New York, which began investigating Petito’s disappearance late last week, said in a statement on Monday that the woman’s last known location was Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Her parents reported her missing on Sept. 11 after a week passed with no word from their daughter, according to police.
Nichole Schmidt, Petito’s mother, told CBS New York that her daughter left the East Coast with her boyfriend for the road trip in early July. The mother and daughter stayed in close contact for most of the trip, Schmidt said, until their last FaceTime call in late August.
“At least three times a week, we would FaceTime, call, text frequently,” Schmidt told CBS New York. “She kept me updated on this whole trip.”
When Petito first stopped responding to her mother’s messages, her parents assumed she had lost cell service while camping in a remote location inside a national park. After a week of silence, they began to worry, Schmidt said.
“I just believe she’s in danger because she’s not in touch with us,” Schmidt told the TV station. “She could be alone somewhere, she could be stranded somewhere in the wilderness. And she needs help.”
Petito’s parents said their daughter had been living in Florida with her boyfriend for the last two years but did not offer any other details about the man or the relationship. Her boyfriend had also been documenting the trip on his Instagram account until Aug. 13.
Police said on Monday that officers had located the white 2012 Ford Transit van that Petito and her boyfriend drove across the country during the trip. CBS New York reported that Petito’s boyfriend returned to Florida and referred the station’s questions to his lawyer. The Washington Post is not naming the man since he has not been charged with any crime. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Tuesday.
In a YouTube video uploaded on Aug. 19, the couple drove from place to place in the van. They smiled into the camera, shared quick kisses and did cartwheels on a beach. Petito offered her companion bites of food from her fork. They held hands on a swing set and played air hockey inside an arcade in Santa Monica, Calif. She shouted and then laughed as rain pelted the walls of their tent one day. Her boyfriend did yoga outside of the tent. They both laughed over a container of chocolate granola that had melted in the July heat while they camped in Utah.
“I love the van,” Petito said to the camera as she lounged inside the tent with her boyfriend.
The cross-country road trip was meant to end next month in Portland, Ore., according to Petito’s parents.
In an emotional plea for help finding their daughter, Petito’s father urged her to get in touch with them if she could. Nichole Schmidt wiped a tear from her face and addressed her daughter: “We miss you,” she said.